Urban Exploration Photography

Photographer takes urban exploration to new heights with amazing rooftop views of Houston in unique exhibition

Houston photographer David Brown is taking his craft to new heights — literally.

Working as a commercial photographer by day, Brown teamed up with his friend and fellow photographer Paul Davis to explore Houston's skyline like never before — by shooting from on top of some of the city's tallest buildings.

"We had just finished shooting a gala, and I was like, 'we need to figure out something fun to shoot.' (Davis) said, 'let's go right now.'" Brown says. "So we just went to this parking garage and started shooting."

"For the first year, we were really just checking doors and trying to get places," he says. "Our intention was always just to get the images."

This illegal practice is frequently referred to as urban exploration, shortened to URBEX, which is the title of Brown and Davis' exhibition, currently on display in the tunnels below City Hall.

In this photo essay, Brown explains the motivation behind the project and comments on each photograph shown.


"These buildings are so iconic from the fall of Enron to the rise of Chevron. My focus was to deconstruct without removing its identity completely. I am excited about the additional upcoming building. This image was from one of earlier rooftop sessions."

According to Brown, after a year of shooting surreptitiously, "several people were very kind and started getting us to the roof tops."

"We've done maybe 30 sessions across the city," he says. "We've been capturing the Chamber of Commerce images right before sunset and then sunset, and we've built a really great stock library."

He and Davis recently received invitations to shoot at the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Memorial City.

"This is really about exploring the different faces of Houston," Brown says. "To try and figure out how to make a composition at a place I've never been before is pretty great."

Of the city hall exhibition, Brown says the "show was very specifically edited."

"I really wanted to create a juxtaposition between tunnel dwellers during the daytime and what we were doing at night up in the skyline."

"The show is really two parts," he adds, as it's composed of photos taken by both Brown and Davis. "I'm hard-line composition. I think meaning is found by deconstructing rigid compositions (and) Paul is more narrative driven."

"It's a really great show which illustrates how two people can see the same spaces very differently."

If you don't catch Brown and Davis' exhibition at City Hall, the exhibition will be on display at Khon's, located at 2808 Milam, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 31 with an opening on Dec. 5.

"This image is so haunting. Such a beautiful skyline and yet devoid of human activity. While on this rooftop I spied an exercise patio for what seemed to be a holding cell for folks awaiting access to the court system. I felt a great paradox of gratitude, empathy and sadness."

"This image fascinates me. I really enjoy how the reflective skin of the building creates a hundred shades from black to gray all the while shifting transparency into the mechanics of the office. It is so voyeuristic — peering into the mystery of management, board rooms and the Christmas spirit.  This is the close up from a set of images that moves from macro to micro."

"This images is from Summer Street Studios in the Washington Avenue Arts District. Such a wonderful visual playground with David Adickes sculptures and the beautiful Houston skyline."

"This image is powerful for many reasons. I created it on the first rooftop session and it really became a catalyst to continue them. It has a comic book kind of feeling to it. Additionally, it serves as documentation to the plight of the Antioch Church that was cut off from it’s congregation with the construction of I-45 and the development downtown."

"This image also holds the line between 'Chamber of Commerce' imagery and a very formal composition. There rigid composition that is somewhat forced between the solid building on the left and the parking garage on the right — it thrusts the view down the street."

"This was such a wonderful evening to shoot. The rooftop sessions have created such a contemplative space in my life to which I am very grateful for. The evening sky from lavender to a rich silky purple really pulls me into this image. The lone early model Lexus, a keynote for working on deadline."

"This image holds such a density, it is hard to believe it is Houston. I often work to find these intersections of grids as an exercise in perspective. The buildings in the back of this image compete for the foreground behind the slanted green roof covering."

"This was the first legitimate rooftop session. We were invited to it by Michael Coppens, then we working with the building management, provided them with our insurance liability waiver and coverage and spent the evening joyfully, peacefully capturing the beauty of the city. This image is important to me because it has the elements of a 'Chamber of Cmmerce' image, yet is holds true to my love of rigid geometry and composition."

"This images speaks so clearly to me. A 'familiar geometry' we all know and I love. Everything is its proper place. The lone office chair on the right, left facing the window. I wonder what the view is from that seat."

"Houston offers such wonderful contrasts. As we start moving towards a more densely developed city, I am working to capture these places of 'empty' within the heart of the city. I can imagine a romantic tryst upon the parking garage rooftop."

"This image offers the same view (as the previous photograph) without the juxtaposition of the green, pink, mint green, lavender elevator bank."

"This is one of a set of images that have a split composition between inside and outside. Paul R. Davis, my partner in this project, can be seen on the left while the beautiful Magnolia Hotel is on the right."

"This image kind of creeps me out. It is not often you find insulating in a parking structure and it makes this one look a bit hairy. But is also offers a great element to the brutal abstraction of the 'work environment.' So many grids, so many layers. This image works omni-directionally."

"This was one of the penultimate rooftop sessions because the project had moved from an off-the-cuff exploration — albeit illegal sometimes — to access to City Hall’s rooftop. So beautiful up there. Thank you Minnette, Maricela, Scott and Zeke for making this session possible."